Watching the Atlanta Braves these days is like pulling teeth...no pun intended.
As I recover from mouth surgery this week and try to figure out just what has happened to the Braves, I can’t help but remain flabbergasted by their sudden and shocking downward spiral.
After experiencing one of the most exhilarating wins in franchise history over the Phillies on April 20, the Braves now find themselves in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, in which their offense has plummeted to new, disturbing lows.
I wrote a blog a couple weeks back about seeing signs of concern, or cracks in the armor, in Atlanta’s batting corps.
While I also discussed the importance of not panicking too soon in the early going, my fears have proven to be right, and this team is getting dangerously close to digging itself a hole that may be too deep to overcome later.
I’m less bothered by the consecutive losses (the Braves aren’t THIS bad, folks), and they will find a way to stop the bleeding.
But in what appears to be a competitive and improved division from top to bottom, the Braves don’t have much longer to fix what ails them.
So, just what and where has it all gone wrong for Atlanta?
I’m about to throw out some stats, but I caution, these numbers are not for the faint of heart.
* The Braves' current seven-game skid is their longest since 2006.
* Their leadoff woes have reached record heights, or should I say, record lows: As recently as April 26, the Braves were hitting a Major League-worst .091 at the top of the order.
The major league average is .252.
Detroit, in the meantime, who beat out Atlanta for Johnny Damon’s services, was hitting .323 with Damon atop its order.
(Insert salt in wound.)
The Braves will wrestle with issues at the top of their order all season long unless they can trade for a prototypical leadoff hitter.
Where they will find him, I don’t know just yet, but hoping that Nate McLouth or Yunel Escobar (who Bobby Cox has recently experimented with atop the order) will be the answer is naive and without merit.
Neither is the answer, and sadly, neither is anyone else currently in a Braves uniform.
That’s the cold, hard truth, boys. It’s time to fix this longstanding issue now, out of house.
* Troy Glaus isn’t just bad—he’s detrimental to the team and to my health.
Speaking of sickly, that would be a fair assessment of Glaus’ numbers so far this season.
He is batting a miserable .200 on the season and an even worse .133 (4-for-30) with two RBI, four walks, and 12 strikeouts in nine home games at Turner Field.
Magnifying the problem is that, statistically, Glaus has his best months in April and May.
So, this may be as good as it gets for the Braves' veteran first baseman.
* Rookie phenom Jason Heyward is battling his first slump of the season.
Granted, I’ve cautioned Braves fans over and over to not expect Heyward to be Superman all season long, and Atlanta’s ultimate saving grace.
He is no doubt a special kid and will figure prominently in the team’s success this season and beyond, but he is, after all, 20 years old.
There are going to be rough spots along the way and adjustments that he will need to make.
The scrutiny he is facing is unquestionably intensified because of the team’s overall struggles with the bat right now.
Still, Heyward has hit that first rough patch of his young career.
Since hitting .429 with two homers and seven RBI in a six-game stretch since April 16, Heyward was since hitting just .103 with four RBI and 12 strikeouts before last night’s contest.
Cox feels his young rookie is taking way too many pitches. While Heyward has often been praised for displaying great plate discipline, it seems he may have taken it to an extreme.
He’s taking too many pitches for strikes and has since only seen one pitch an at-bat to swing at.
* To reiterate, just how bad is this offense as a whole?
Before dropping another game to the Cardinals last night, Atlanta entered Tuesday's game with a lowly .229 average with nine runs and NO home runs during its six-game skid.
That skid has now been extended to seven, and it is unacceptable.
The Braves have also blown two early, multi-run leads in their past two games against St. Louis.
The lone positive in their otherwise disturbing tailspin is the fact that the club is still getting quality starts from its rotation on a nightly basis.
That fact is encouraging and makes you believe the Braves may not be a lost cause after all.
The bottom line, though, is that the offense’s inability to provide sufficient run support has ruined some beautifully pitched ball games and has zapped any confidence the team has exuded as a result of their starting staff.
While my issues with many holes in the Braves lineup remain, it is still safe to say that some of these players, like Yunel Escobar, for example, have yet to hit their stride.
With time, that will come.
My main concern is that this slump will become mental.
Atlanta looks as if they are battling through a case of the “yips” right now, and it is only a matter of time before that psychological issue can snowball on a team’s season.
If the Braves start expecting the worst, they will in turn play not to lose instead of playing to win.
The worst thing the Braves can do right now is play conservatively. They must take an aggressive approach and literally hit, or hopefully smash, their way out of this rut.
But I digress.
It is now time for you to weigh in.
Can the Braves be saved—and how would you fix them?
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